Student engagement in postsecondary English classes in China: the teachers’ perspective



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Fostering student engagement in classes aligns with requirements from the latest national college English curriculum issued in 2015 in China. However, abundant research has identified that both intrinsic and extrinsic obstacles impede the creation of an authentic student-centered learning environment. Meanwhile, limited research studies have evaluated instructors’ perspectives toward student engagement at the undergraduate level embedded in the Chinese examination-oriented educational system. Therefore, this qualitative study investigated four English instructors’ experiences in student engagement and relationship building with their students in postsecondary English classes. This study was confined to English education to non-English major students in the context of Chinese higher education. Research questions were answered through a multiple case study approach guided by Self-Determination Theory, emphasizing the uniqueness of each participant’s experiences and construction of meaning. Triangulation, participants’ member check, and peer debriefing achieved the trustworthiness and rigor of the findings of this study. Results indicate that the four participants appreciated student engagement and confirmed including group class activities and fostering rapport with students as effective ways to increase student engagement. Accordingly, participants viewed themselves as organizers, facilitators, counselors, and resources. Instructors’ beliefs and students’ motivation in English teaching and learning influenced the level of student engagement. Participants struggled with constraints from large class sizes, limited pedagogical knowledge, and shortage of educational technology support. On this basis, a reformation in English curriculum and teacher credentialing is recommended to enhance student engagement. For future studies, empirical research should examine the correlational relationship between engaged pedagogies and academic performance. Further exploration of student engagement from the student perspective is also recommended to identify the most engaging pedagogical practices.



Student engagement, Pedagogical practice, Instructor-student relationship, English as a foreign language, China, English education

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Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction Programs

Major Professor

Debbie K. Mercer